In December 1916 William Graham Eyles, a former alderman of Drummoyne, was sentenced to death in Sydney’s Central Criminal Court for the murder of his wife, Ellen, who was found hanging by a strap from a bedpost in her house in Courland Street, Five Dock.

There were signs of a struggle with numerous bruises on the deceased’s face and blood-stained bedding. The body was discovered by their daughter, Alice, who said her father had previously tried to choke her mother.

William and Ellen (Winfield) Eyles married in Ashfield in 1895. The couple had been separated for 18 months, during which time Mrs Eyles reported her husband had left her and their two daughters without means of support and had been seeing another woman. Eyles was arrested in May 1916 for failing to pay a magistrate’s order to pay maintenance to his wife. It was his second arrest for the same offence. He was fined £42 and ordered to appear the following month at Ashfield Court.

The “other woman” appeared at the coronial inquest at Burwood where she testified that she had been keeping company with William Eyles who he had proposed marriage to her. She said she was quite fond of him and had accepted his proposal to become engaged. Eyles, she claimed, had represented himself as a man of means and the two had exchanged letters of a personal nature.

When Eyles arrived at the house the day after his wife’s death he found police in attendance and asked them what the problem was. When shown his wife’s lifeless body, he suggested she must have killed herself as she had on two or three previous occasions threatened to take her own life. Eyles said he offered to take her out to cheer her up.

At the inquest, police alleged Eyles visited the house earlier to recover his lover’s letters. These were later submitted as evidence in the coronial inquest and subsequent Criminal Court trial. It was further alleged that the couple argued and Eyles then strangled his wife and tried to make it appear a suicide.

Eyles’ imprisonment and his wife’s murder left their children, Alice (aged 11) and Minnie (aged 7) without parental support. Their brother, Walter Eyles, aged 21, was currently serving overseas in the AIF. Private Eyles, a Horse Driver with the 54th Battalion, was discharged and returned to Australia to look after his sisters.

Two weeks after the trial the Court of Criminal Conviction quashed the conviction on appeal. The court held that the prosecution’s case relied on circumstantial evidence and could not discount the possibility that, although Eyles might have returned to the house earlier, this may not have been when his wife was murdered. It also found that the hearsay evidence of Eyles’ whereabouts at the time of the murder, was both inadmissible and contradictory.

The Court ordered the release of Eyles after a 4-day stay of proceedings; however, as he was leaving Long Bay Gaol, he was immediately rearrested for perjury. The Crown appealed the overturning of Eyle’s conviction and a retrial was set for March 1917. The following June the Court upheld Eyles’ conviction but commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment.

Eyle’s health reportedly deteriorated while he was in gaol. In the early 1930s his friends and children petitioned the Minister of Justice, Mr Lee, for his release. The petition was not granted, however, the 1934 electoral roll for the seat of Dally, shows Eyles living in Reynolds Street, Balmain East, having resumed his former trade as a plumber. In 1936 he is shown as living in McDonald Street, Leichhardt and in 1937 in Foveaux Street, East Sydney. Eyles died in East Sydney in July 1945, survived by his three children.

While contemporary newspaper accounts frequently referred to Eyles as a former Mayor of Drummoyne, municipal records show that he served only one term as alderman in 1906

Andrew West

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